Despite ban, shackling of incarcerated women continues in Pennsylvania

More news on the shackling front. The good news is that this horrific practice is finally getting some much needed media attention. The bad news is that it still happens, despite policy changes that are meant to eradicate the practice.

Philadelphia Weekly has an in-depth article about one woman’s experience being shackled during labor for over 17 hours. She even has scars on her ankles to prove it.

I was happy to see that she had a doula with her, who tried to get the shackles taken off, to no avail.

The descriptions of Torres’ experience are really horrific. I admire her courage for telling her story, with the hope that it will never happen again.

Being shackled during labor was just one of many dehumanizing moments Torres says she endured: When she was transported outside of the prison, a chain was wrapped two times around her body, just below her breasts and above her stomach, and then placed into a lockbox where her wrists were secured with handcuffs. A confident and careful speaker, Torres intermittently pauses to reflect on her story’s implications. “The squatting and the coughing [to search for hidden drugs and weapons]… I did even at nine months pregnant.”

These stories just further reveal a truth that many of us ignore–the dehumanizing and unjust practices of the criminal justice system. It isn’t just pregnant women who need to be treated better in prison.

In reaction to stories like these, a PA legislator, Senator David Leach, has introduced legislation to ban the practice.

The article also highlights the amazing work of three doulas working at Riverside Correctional Facility. I’ve been seeing an increasing number of doulas looking to work with incarcerated women as folks reveal the conditions that women often labor under. This program is even staffed by paid doulas–the other programs I know are volunteer.

Danyell Williams sleeps with her cell phone like a doctor with her omnipresent pager. The 37-year-old Philadelphia native and her three staff members—all trained doulas—are each on call for two weeks every other month, rushing to the hospital when they get word of an impending birth. Over last year’s Fourth of July weekend, Williams worked through 23 sleepless hours of labor.

MOMobile’s program at Riverside is groundbreaking. “We’re one of the only ones in the country,” says Williams. Since the beginning of the doula program in November 2006, MOMobile has attended 42 births.

The doulas are the only intimate human contact that jailed women have while giving birth. “When you’re incarcerated, the only people allowed in are security staff and MOMobile,” says Williams.

The good news of all of this is that there has been little opposition to legislation looking to ban the practice. The challenge comes with the bureaucracy of the prisons and the chain of command that often ignores legislation and procedural changes.

Read the whole piece here.

Thanks to New Voices Pittsburgh and La’Tasha Mayes for the link.


5 thoughts on “Despite ban, shackling of incarcerated women continues in Pennsylvania

  1. Jill--Unnecesarean January 25, 2010 / 11:04 am

    I wonder what it would take to get a program similar to MOMobile going. Any ideas where to start?

    • radicaldoula January 25, 2010 / 11:09 am

      Well the MOMobile is a really well established (and funded!) group, but I know volunteer doulas who’ve gotten into prisons in other places. There is a group in MA and a group in WA. I think the key is to find a friendly official who is willing to let the doulas do a group for pregnant moms–an education/support type thing usually.

      The challenge is having to play nice with the officials, while still doing the work with the women.

      Maybe I’ll get one of the doulas involved in a program to do a guestpost about how to start a program. It’s really amazing work.

  2. Lauren January 25, 2010 / 11:30 am

    This is insanity. What do they think a laboring woman is going to do? Run off mid-transition?? I understand the need to prevent escapes, but a prison guard positioned outside a delivery room should be more than effective. Imagine these children, literally born to a woman in chains…

  3. Melissa January 26, 2010 / 4:52 am

    Do yourself a favor; don’t read the comments on the newspaper website unless you want to grind your teeth down to the gums.

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